The world of car baby seat rules and jargon can seem daunting: you want to protect your child the best you can, abide the law, and make sure you’re getting a high quality, comfortable product.
On this page, find all of the info you need to find the perfect car baby seat for you – one which is not only safe and comfortable, it also fits for your car and meets the legal requirements.
It’s important to check if the seat you’re planning on purchasing is not only suitable for the person sitting in it, but also that it’s suitable for your vehicle. So, check if your car has ISOFIX fittings or not. If it does, you can go ahead and get a seat which has ISOFIX straps (and if the seat is suitable for your child!). If your car doesn’t have ISOFIX anchor points, you’ll want to look for a seat which can be attached via a belted base.
Ultimately, a good retailer will be able to tell you if a particular seat will fit in your car. An even better retailer lets you test the seat, and has trained staff who can come and fit it for you and show you how to use it!
ISOFIX the international standard for attachment points for child safety seats in passenger cars. Most cars built since 2002 have these ISOFIX fittings built-in. The anchor points are often hidden within the car’s seat padding.
While you don’t have to have to choose a seat with ISOFIX connectors, we recommend them because they offer greater security as opposed to the car seat being attached via the adult belts.
On some car seats, the ISOFIX connectors are part of the seat itself. With others, you have to buy a separate ISOFIX base to install into your car, and your seat will click on to this.
So, by now you know a little bit about car baby seats. Perhaps you don’t know which seat is best for you yet, but we’re getting there. Before you can choose the perfect seat you must think about the best place for the seat, based on your requirements, so you know which ones to look out for.
Front Passenger Seat
It is safer for your children to travel in the rear seats than the front. Some parents like to be able to keep an eye on their baby or child and so put them in the front. But, they are safer in the rear, and remember, if you are trying to drive and look after a child at the same time, you will be distracted and more likely to crash.
If a baby or child needs to be monitored, for health reasons for example, ask another adult to ride with them in the rear.
NEVER put a rearward-facing baby seat in the front if there is an active passenger airbag. It is illegal and dangerous to do so, because if the airbag goes off, it will hit the baby seat and fling it forward with considerable force.
If the car does not have airbags in the front, or if they can be deactivated, or if the car has sensors which switches the airbag off automatically when you fit a child seat, then you can legally carry a rearward facing baby seat in the front. However, it is still better to fit it in the rear.
If you must fit a forward-facing seat in the front, make sure that the car seat is as far back as it will go so your child is as far away from the dashboard as possible. Double check that the child seat is very securely held by the seat belt and your child is securely held by the child seat’s integral harness or the car seat belt (depending on the type of child car seat).
Rear Seat Behind Driver
If possible, use one of the other rear seats. If you use this seat, you may have to get the child in or out of the car on the road side of the vehicle. However, if you normally park with the driver’s side next to the pavement, this seat would be better than the opposite side.
If you use this seat, make sure the child seat can be fitted in this position correctly.
Middle Rear Seat
If the middle rear seat has a three-point (lap and diagonal) seat belt, this is the safest place to put a child restraint (unless the manufacturer’s instructions say one of the other seats is better) because it is the furthest away from the sides of the car.
If the middle rear seat has a lap-only belt, check the child restraint instructions to see if it can be fitted with a lap-only belt. Most child car seats require a three-point seat belt. If this is the case, fit the seat on a rear seat that has a lap and diagonal seat belt.
If you are using an ISOFIX or i-Size child seat you can only use the middle rear seat if it has ISOFIX points.
Rear Seat Behind Passenger
It is better to use this seat, than the one behind the driver, because it means you can normally get the child in and out of the car on the pavement side.
Make sure the child seat can be fitted in this position correctly.
Select the option which most accurately describes your little one:
These seats are designed for newborns and younger babies, and are ideal for moving between car if you travel by car and then continue your journey by foot. Most models can be attached to a compatible pushchair to form a travel system, and you can also use the seat to carry your baby in - this is a great feature if they have fallen asleep on the journey as there is no need to disturb them.
These seats are super versatile, and will last your little one from birth to approx. 4 years old. Your baby travels in the seat rear-facing and can then move to a forward facing position from 9kg (approx. 9 months) if preferred.
These seats are next stage up when your little one has outgrown their baby car seat.
9 Months-12 Years and 9-36kg
So, your baby is aged between 9 months and 12 years and also weighs between 9 and 36kg? Then you should look for a Highback Booster Seat with Integral Harness (Group 1-2-3).
Boasting impressive longevity, these seats covering all three car seat stages will last your child from 9 months until they no longer need to use a car seat.
An excellent choice for older children who need a boost to ensure the adult seatbelt is correctly positioned to keep them safe.
Providing a handy stand-by seat for older children when taking a taxi or a lifts with friends when your child’s usual seat is not available.
i-Size is the newest European-wide car seat regulation. It's designed to keep children rear-facing for longer, provide better side impact protection and make car seats easier to fit correctly.
A: Yes, if you are using a child seat that conforms to the R44 standard. These are designed for children within specific weight ranges. If a child is too big for their child seat, it will not protect them properly and may even injure them in a crash. They will also be uncomfortable in the seat. If a child is too small, they may slip under the seat belt or harness (‘submarine’) and thrown about inside the vehicle, or even thrown out of it, in a crash, or the seat belt may injure them.
However, if you are using an i-Size seat, these are based on a child’s height, rather than weight, so you need to check that your child is within the height range specified for the seat. Rearward-facing i-Size seats are designed for children up to at least 15 months old. Forward-facing i-size seats are being developed.
Always make sure that your child is the right size and weight for the seat they are using. Do not be tempted to put a child in a restraint that is too big for them on the grounds that they will grow into it.
A: No. One of the most common fitting mistakes is to leave the child seat held loosely by the seat belt. If it is not held securely, it will be thrown forwards in a crash and the child may be injured. Make sure that the seat has been fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, use an ISOFIX seat or an i-Size seat that is approved for your car as it will be easier to fit and will be more secure. If the child seat is secured by the car’s seat belts, check that the seat belt has been fitted through the correct route guides on the child seat (blue for rearward-facing and red for forward-facing) and that it has been pulled tight. Many seats have a lock-off device to prevent the seat belt slipping once it has been tightened – make sure this is in the lock position. Check that the child seat rests on the car seat properly. If you cannot fit it securely, check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car. If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.
A: The shape of car seats varies between different models. For instance, some rear seats curl up at the sides, the length of the cushion differs. And the size and shape of the base of child seats differ. Therefore, some child seats will not fit certain car models. If your child seat cannot rest properly on the car seat, it will be difficult to hold the child seat securely. You may need to replace the child seat with one that will rest squarely on the child seat. Check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car. Try the child seat in other positions in the car to see if there is a better fit. If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.
A: The length of seat belts differs between cars, and some child car seats are bigger than others. Generally, rearward-facing baby seats and combination seats need longer seat belts than forward-facing child seats. If possible, use an ISOFIX seat or an i-Size seat that is approved for your car as it will be easier to fit and will be more secure. If this is not possible, check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car. Try the child seat in other positions in the car to see if there is a better fit. Some seats have an ‘alternative belt route’ that can be used when the belts are too short for normal installation. If using the front seat, put the seat as far back as it will go. In some cars, it is possible to adjust the height of the seat belt (on the door pillar) – try lowering the height adjuster if one is fitted. If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.
A: If the seat belt buckle lies across the frame of the child seat it will be under pressure and may spring open in an impact. Only seatbelt webbing should be in contact with the frame of the child seat. If possible, use an ISOFIX seat or an i-Size seat that is approved for your car as it will be easier to fit and will be more secure, and it will avoid the problem of buckle crunch. If this is not possible, make sure you have fitted the child seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions and that the seat belt has been fitted through the correct route guides on the seat. If the child seat has an ‘alternative belt route’ for use with shorter seats belts, see if this route avoids the buckle crunch. If using the front seat, put the seat as far back as it will go. In some cars, it is possible to adjust the height of the seat belt (on the door pillar) – try lowering the height adjuster if one is fitted. Try the child seat in other positions in the car to see if there is a better fit. Check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car. If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.
A: No, it is dangerous and illegal to put a rearward-facing baby seat in the front if there is an active airbag fitted on the passenger side. The back of the baby seat would be very close to the dashboard and if the airbag deployed in a crash it would strike the baby seat with considerable force. This could cause serious injury to your child.
It is safer to put children, including babies, in the rear of the car. If you feel (for medical reasons, for example) that the baby needs to be constantly monitored, find an adult to sit next to the baby in rear.
It may be possible to de-activate the passenger airbag, although this means that any adult passenger sitting in the front will no longer have the extra protection offered by the airbag.
Check with the car manufacturer and follow their advice. You should also consult your insurance company before deactivating an airbag.
A: Yes, although it is safer for children to travel in the rear of the car.
If you must put a forward-facing seat in the front when there is an airbag present, make sure that the car seat is as far back as possible and the child seat is securely held to maximise the distance between the child and the airbag.
It is better not to place a forward-facing restraint in a seat with an airbag; try to avoid this if possible. If it is not possible, then check the advice of the vehicle manufacturer. Find out how far the airbag extends when deployed and ensure that your child is well outside the expansion area. Ensure that the passenger seat is as far back from the airbag as possible, that the child seat is very securely fitted and the child is securely held by the harness or seat belt.
A: Side airbags are usually a curtain airbag which deploys downward to provide protection to the head and are not as powerful as the front ones. They should not pose a risk to a child in a child seat in the rear, but provide added protection.
Make sure that the child seat is fitted properly and your child is using it correctly. Try to prevent the child seat leaning close to, or against, the door or window. Of course, children often fall asleep in child seats but seats with side wings will help to stop a sleeping child’s head resting against the side window.
If concerned, contact the vehicle manufacturer to ask how far the side airbags come out if they deploy and whether they are likely to contact a child restraint in the rear outboard seats. EuroNCAP tests include assessing the safety of child seats in a side impact, so check www.euroncap.com to see if your vehicle model is one of those that has been tested.
A: Instructions for fitting and using child restraints are essential. Without them, it is difficult to be sure that the child seat has been correctly fitted. Check the manufacturer’s website as many publish copies of their instruction manuals, which you can download. If the instructions are not available online, contact the manufacturer to ask if they can provide a copy.
A: Baby seats and child seats usually have a five-point (or three-point) harness to hold the child in the seat. This is a very important part of the protection the child seat provides. If the harness is loose, the child could be thrown from the seat in a crash, or work their way out of the harness while you are driving. The harness buckle should not rest over the child’s tummy.
If the harness does not fit your child, use the child seat’s instruction booklet to check that it is adjusted correctly. On most seats the height of the harness can be raised as the child grows. The top of the harness should be about 2cm below the shoulder of a child in a rear-facing child car seat, and about 2cm above the shoulder of a child in a forward-facing child car seat.
Also make sure that the harness is not twisted or tangled.
The harness should fit snugly, so that only one or two fingers can fit between the harness and the child’s chest. The child’s clothes can also affect how snugly the harness fits. For example, if a child was previously wearing a bulky, the harness may need to be loosened.
If you cannot adjust the harness to fit your child correctly, you should change the child seat.
A: The best advice is not to use a second-hand child seat. You cannot be certain of its history. It may have been involved in an accident and the damage may not be visible. Very often the instructions are missing from second-hand seats which makes it more difficult to be sure that you are fitting and using it correctly. Second-hand seats are also likely to be older, to have suffered more wear and tear and may not be designed to current safety standards.
It is far better to buy a new child seat. Prices range dramatically, and it is not necessary to buy the most expensive one. Ask your local Road Safety Department (part of your Council) whether they know of any child seat discount schemes.
If you must use a second-hand seat, only accept one from a family member or friend (don’t buy one from a second-hand shop or through the classified ads) and then only if you are absolutely certain that you know its history, it comes with the original instructions and it is not too old.
Before you agree to accept the seat:
Examine it carefully for damage (but remember, not all damage to child seats is visible to the naked eye).
Make sure the manufacturer’s instructions are available.
Check the manufacturer’s advice about how old the seat should be before it needs to be replaced.
Make sure the seat is suitable for your child’s weight and height.
Try the seat in your car – if you cannot get it to fit securely, do not buy it.
Check that the seat meets the United Nations standard Regulation 44.04 or the i-size standard. Look for the ‘E’ mark.
A: There is a very wide range of different child seats. The most important thing is to make sure that the seat you choose is suitable for your child and for your car (or cars, if you use the child seat in more than one car).
This page on the U-DRIVE website was created to help you discover what type of seat is suitable for your child’s weight and height, and we’ve given you some recommendations too which we’ve personally used. Take time to also look through the manufacturer’s catalogues and websites, and shops that sell child seats to assess a range of seats. You can also obtain information about the safety performance of some seats from surveys conducted by “Which”, and magazines such as “What Car” and “Mother and Baby”. Some seats are tested in cars the European New Car Assessment Programme (www.euroncap.com), so if your car model has been tested, choose a child seat that was used in their tests.
When buying, try to find a retailer who will help you try the seat in your car before you buy it. Ask whether they have staff trained in choosing and fitting child car seats, and try to make sure you are advised by one who has been trained. If this is not possible, make sure that you can return the seat, and replace it or get a refund, if it is not suitable.
Avoid buying a child seat online or by mail order, unless you are sure that it is suitable for your child and will fit your car.
Check that the seat meets the United Nations standard Regulation 44.04 (or R44.03), or the new i-Size standard (look for the ‘E’ mark).
Remember, the seat needs to be suitable for your child’s weight and size, or their height and age if it’s an i-Size seat, and must be suitable for your car.
A: Some children go through a phase of slipping out of the child seat harness or releasing the buckle, during journeys. This is extremely worrying for many parents and very frustrating. Once a child has learnt how to do this, it is very difficult to stop them. The good news is that it seems usually to be a phase which they grow out of.
A: Children must be carried in an appropriate child car seat. The only exception is if there are two occupied child car seats in the rear but not enough room fit a third one, a child over 3 years can sit in the rear using the car’s seat belt instead of a child car seat. However, children under 3 years must be in a child car seat, so if there is no room for a third child seat in the rear, the child must travel in the front seat with the correct child car seat.
A: Yes, but it is safer for children to travel in the rear seats.
If your child is under 12 years old they must use an appropriate child restraint, unless they are over 135cm in height. Once a child is taller than 135cm, they can use the car’s seat belt, regardless of their age. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that every passenger under 14 is in a child seat or is using a seat belt according to the law.
It is illegal to put a child in a rearward facing child car seat in the front passenger seat, if there is an active passenger airbag.
A: It is safer for your child to travel in the rear seats. Therefore if you have the choice, put your child in a rear passenger seat.
If the middle rear seat has a three-point (lap and diagonal) seat belt, this is the safest place to put a child restraint (unless the manufacturer’s instructions say it fits better in one of the other seats) because it is the furthest away from the sides of the car. If it only has a lap-only belt, check the child restraint instructions to see if it can be fitted with a lap-only belt. If not, fit the restraint on either side of the rear seat using the lap and diagonal seat belt.
If you are using an ISOFIX seat you can only use the middle rear seat if it has ISOFIX points.
A: Yes, it provides greater protection in a crash. A lap belt is far better than no belt at all, but make sure it fits across the top of your child’s thighs and around their hips, not across their stomach because in a crash this could cause damage to internal organs.
Some child restraints can only be fitted with a three-point lap and diagonal seat belt; always check the fitting instructions.
A: Under no circumstances, put a rearward-facing baby seat in the front if there is an active passenger airbag.
If the third seat is a forward-facing child car seat that is fitted with a three -point seat belt you cannot fit it with a lap belt on its own – you must use a three-point seat belt. Therefore, you will have to put one of the children in the front seat. Make sure the passenger seat is rolled back as far as possible, that the child seat is very securely fitted and the child is securely held by the harness or seat belt.
Some child restraints (mostly group 1 seats) can be fitted using the lap belt only – check the manufacturer’s fitting instructions.
If your car has Isofix points, use Isofix seats or i-size seats that are approved for your car, if possible. They will be easier to fit and more secure.
A: No. Child car seats are tested and approved for the child’s weight not age. Provided that the top of your child’s head does not extend above the back of the seat, s/he should remain in the rearward-seat until s/he is over 9kg and can confidently and comfortably sit up for a reasonable length of time (30 minutes or more is a good guide).
An alternative is to use an i-Size seat. In these seats, babies must be kept rearward-facing until they are at least 15 months old. Check that your baby’s height is within the range specified for the seat.
Do not rush to move your baby into a forward-facing seat, rearward-facing is safer and gives better protection to their head, neck and spine in a crash.
A: No. We do not recommend using any device which may interfere with the operation of the buckle or seatbelt. It is not known how such devices will behave in a crash and they could impede the emergency services in freeing your child from the vehicle. There may also be implications for your insurance if you have modified a safety feature like the seatbelt.
A: Child seats used in the UK must conform to the standard ECE R44.04.
Child seats that meet the R44 standard or the i-Size standard (R129) will have a label with the letter E in a circle and a number (the number indicates the country in which the seat was tested and approved – the UK is 11). The standard applies across Europe and so seats manufactured in other European countries can be used in the UK, provided they meet ECE R44.04 or the i-size standard (R129).
Child seats from other countries cannot be used in the UK unless they meet ECE R44.04, or the new i-Size regulation (R129).
A: Rearward-facing seats provide more protection for the child’s head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats. It is common in some countries, especially Sweden, to keep children rearward-facing until they are four years old.
Group 0+ & 1 seats that keep the child rearward-facing until they are 18 kg in weight, which is roughly four years old are available in the UK. Some can be turned into forward-facing seats when the child has reached 13 kg in weight, or they can continue to be used rearward-facing.
However, because they are larger, there may not be enough space to fit them in some vehicles, or they may mean fewer other passengers can be carried. They may also more difficult to fit.
An alternative is to use an i-Size seat. i-Size seats keep children rearward-facing until they are at least 15 months old, but do check that your child’s height is within the range specified for the i-size seat.
A: If a child is wearing a thick jacket or body suit the harness cannot be firmly fastened around the child meaning that it will not fit in the right place and importantly it will not be close enough to the child’s body. In an accident the harness will need to compress the jacket before it can restrain the child. This reduces the safety of the seat considerably and therefore it is NOT recommended that thick jackets or bodysuits are worn.
A: A child can be secured in the vehicle in the normal way using an inflatible seatbelt if they are taller than 135cm. You cannot use an inflatible seatbelt to secure the car seat itself in the vehicle.
A: A recent study of 40 full term and pre term infants using a simulator suggested that in a 40° position in the child car seat with vibration typical of what an infant would experience in a a moving vehicle, both term and preterm infants had significantly faster heartbeats, lower oxygen saturation and higher respiratory rates.1
There has been research warning of the dangers of carrying children in child seats for long periods of time, but this refers to much longer periods than a car journey, and children who are premature or have a low birth weight. The American Association of Paediatrics recommends that pre-term infants undergo a ‘car seat challenge’ (which assesses whether preterm infants who are ready for discharge home are prone to episodes of apnoea (stopping breathing), bradycardia (slow heart rate), or desaturation (low oxygen levels) when seated in their car seat) to ensure that the infant is safe to travel.
You can seek advice from the child seat manufacturers about the length of time children should spend in their seat, or speak to a medical professional such as your GP who may be able to give specific advice.
However, it is advisable from a driver’s perspective to take a break after 2 hours of continuous driving. A break will prevent you from becoming tired behind the wheel and give you chance to take the child out of their seats for a while.
1 Arya et al. (2014) ‘Effect on Cardiorespiratory Function in Term and Preterm Infants Sitting in a Car Safety Seat, in a Simulated Moving Vehicle (Pilot Study)’, Arch Dis Child, 99(1): A1-A212.
A: The company should always provide fitting instructions for the seat, they may provide assistance on occasion but will not fit the seat. It is the responsibility of the person who is hiring the seat to check that the seat is fitted correctly. You may be unfamiliar with the seat therefore, it is recommended that you ask for the make and model in advance so that you can familiarise your self with the fitting instructions.